MIAMI (AP) - An aging weather satellite crucial to accurate predictions on the intensity and path of hurricanes could fail at any moment and plans to launch a replacement have been pushed back seven years to 2016.
In a letter obtained by The Associated Press, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's chief said the failure of the QuikScat satellite could bring more uncertainty to forecasts and widen the areas that are placed under hurricane watches and warnings.
If the satellite faltered, experts estimate that the accuracy of two- day forecasts would suffer by 10 percent and three-day forecasts by 16 percent, which could translate into miles of coastline and the difference between a city being evacuated or not.
"We would go blind. It would be significantly hazardous," said Wayne Sallade, emergency manager in Charlotte County, which was hit hard by Hurricane Charley in 2004.
In the letter to a Florida congressman, NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher blamed the delays on technical and budget problems. Scientists said if QuikScat failed, they may have to rely on less accurate satellites.
Bill Proenza, director of the National Hurricane Center in Miami, said authorities "may have to err on the side of caution" in future forecasts.
(By JESSICA GRESKO)